A teenage boy who I’ll call Sam recently told me that he was having a “problem with jealousy.” When I asked Sam what he meant, he explained that Ryan, another boy at his school, was incredibly charismatic and popular; all the other kids wanted to be around him and he seemed able to attract anyone he wanted. Sam’s feelings of “jealousy” were so powerful, so painful that at times, he couldn’t bear to look at Ryan. “He just makes me feel so bad about myself,” Sam added.
When Sam uses the word jealousy, he’s actually referring to what I would instead call envy. (I discuss the difference between the two in this earlier post.) Sam also has it backwards: Ryan doesn’t make him feel bad about himself; Sam already feels bad about himself (full of shame), and because of this basic feeling that’s he’s defective or damaged, different from and inferior to other people, his envy of Ryan is excruciating painful. Envy is a normal human emotion, one virtually everybody feels at one time or another; as I’ve said before, it also has its value, teaching us what we want to have or to be, and thereby motivating us. When coupled with basic shame, however, it becomes toxic.
Continue “Shame and How It Produces Envy”